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or egotism arrest its flight ? Is the safety of the state of
less weight than a personal contribution ?

No, such an error cannot exist ; — the passions them-
selves yield not to such base calculations. If the revolu-
tion, which has given us a country, has left some French-
men indifferent, it will be their interest, to maintain at all
events, the tranquillity of the kingdom, as the only pledge
of their personal safety. For it is certainly not in a gen-
eral tumult — in the degradation of public authority — when
thousands of indigent citizens driven from their work,
and their means of subsistence, shall claim the sterile
commisseration of their brethren— when armies shall be
dissolved into wandering bands armed with swords and
irritated by hunger ; — when property sfeall be threatened,


lives no longer safe, and grief and terror upon the
threshold of every door; — it is not in such a state of society
that the egotist can enjoy the mite he has refused to con-
tribute for the wants of his country. The only difference
in his fate, in the common calamity, from that of his
fellow citizens, would be deserved opprobium ; and in
his bosom, unavailing remorse.

What recent proofs have we not had of that public spi-
rit which places success beyond a doubt. With what
rapidity was that national militia, were those legions of
armed citizens formed, for the defence of the states, the
preservation of public peace, and due execution of the
laws! A generous emulation pervaded the whole king-
dom. Towns, cities, provinces, all considered their pri-
vileges as odious distinctions ; and aspired to the honour
of sacrificing them to enrich their country. You well
know, that there was not time to draw up a separate de-
cree for each sacrifice, which a truly pure and patriotic
sentiment dictated to all classes of citizens, who volunta-
rily restored to the great family, that which was exclu-
sively enjoyed by the few to the prejudice of the many.

Patriotic gifts have been singularly multiplied during
the present crisis in the finances. The most noble exam-
ples have emanated from the throne, whose majesty is
elevated by the virtue of the prince who sits upon it. 0,
prince, so justly beloved by your people! King, honest
man, and good citizen! You glanced at the magnificence
which surrounded you, and the riches of ostentation were
forthwith converted into national resources! By fore-


going the embellishments of luxury, your royal dignity
received new splendour ; and while the affection of your
people makes them murmur at your privations, their sen-
sibility applauds your noble courage, and their generosity
will return your benefactions, as you wish them to be re-
turned, by imitating your virtue and affording you the
delight of having guided them through the difficult paths
of public sacrifice.

How vast is the wealth which ostentation and vanity
have made their prey, and which might become the active
agent of prosperity ! To what an extent might individual
economy concur with the most noble views, in restoring
happiness to the kingdom ! The immense riches accumu-
lated by the piety of our forefathers for the service of the
altar, would not change their religious destination, by
being brought from their obscurity, and devoted to the
public service! " These are the hoards which I collected
in the days of prosperity," says our holy religion ; "I
add them to the general mass in the present times of pub-
lic calamity. I required them not ; no borrowed splendour
can add to my greatness. It was for you, and for the
state, that I levied this tribute upon the piety of your an-

Oh! who would reject such examples as these? How
favourable is the present moment for the development
of our resources, and for claiming assistance from all parts
of the empire ! Let us prevent the opprobrium of viola-
ting our most sacred engagements, which would prove a •
foul blot upon the infancy of our freedom Let us pre-


vent those dreadful shocks which, by overthrowing the
most solid institutions, would affect far and near, the for-
tune of all classes of citizens, and present, throughout the
kingdom, the sad spectacle of a disgraceful ruin. How
do they deceive themselves who, at a distance from the
metropolis, consider not the public faith, either in its in-
separable connexion with the national prosperity, or as
the primary condition of our social compact! Do they
who pronounce the infamous word bankruptcy, desire
that we should form a community of wild beasts, instead
of equitable and free men? What Frenchman would
dare look upon one of his unfortunate brethren, if his con-
science should whisper to him that he had contributed
his share towards poisoning the existence of millions of
his fellow creatures? Should we be any longer that na-
tion whose very enemies grant us the pride of honour, if
foreigners could degrade us with the title of BANKRUPT
NATION, and accuse us of having assumed our freedom
and our strength, only to commit crimes at which even
despotism herself would shudder ? .

Our protesting that our execrable crime was not pre-
meditated, would avail us nothing. The cries of our vic-
tims, disseminated all over Europe, would be a louder, and
a more effective protestation than ours. We must act
without loss of time ; — prompt, efficacious, and certain
measures must be adopted ; and that cloud must disappear,
which has been so long suspended over our heads, and,
from one end of Europe to the other, has thrown conster-
nation into the minds of the creditors of France j — for it


may, at length, become more fatal to our national resour-
ces, than the dreadful scourge which has ravaged our pro-

What courage would the adoption of this plan give us
in the functions you have confided to our zeal! And how
could we proceed with safety, in the constitution of a state
whose very existence is in danger? We promised, nay,
we solemnly swore to save the country; judge then of
our anguish, when we fear that it will perish in our hands.
A momentary sacrifice is all that is required ; but it must
be frankly made to the public good, and not to the depre-
dations of cupidity. And is this slight expiation of the
faults and errors of the period marked by our political ser-
vitude, beyond our courage? God forbid! Let us re-
member the price paid for freedom, by every people who
have showed themselves worthy of it. Torrents of blood,
lengthened misfortunes, and dreadful civil wars, have
every where marked her birth. She only requires of us
a pecuniary sacrifice ; and this vulgar offering is not a
gift that will impoverish us ;— for she will return to en-
rich us, and shine upon our cities and our fields to in-
crease their glory and prosperity.


No. IV.


on his Tnotion against the eligibility of insolvent
debtors to the legislative assembly, and that of their
children, unless the latter pay the virile portion of
their father^ s debts.

Monsieur le Comte,

I HAVE neither great wit nor a fine style. All that is
very common with you, and you will easily dispense
with it in a poor artisan. But I have some judgment, —
at least I think so — a feeling of pure patriotism, and a
lively and grateful heart. These are my claims to your
attention, and I am sure they will be admitted by so
good a citizen.

Ah! Monsieur le Comte, what an excellent law you
have proposed! What a wise decree you have obtained
from the national assembly! It is the rallying of honest
men against rogues. May Heaven bless you, gentlemen !
You are the defenders of duped and confiding men, the
scourge of insolvent dishonesty, and the restorers of in-
tegrity, honour and filial piety.

Though this effusion is excited in my mind by grati-
tude, the latter may, perhaps, be attended with a little
resentment. And how can I help it ? I was ruined by
a gentleman ; — I had worked for him several years, paid


workmen to serve him, and even mad© advances to
procure him other works in the line of my 'calling. I
wanted to set up my son, and portion my daughter ; and
I depended upon this sum, so justly due to me, for the
settlement of my children, and the payment of a small
stock in trade, which I had bought. On the eve of re-
ceiving this money, as I thought, I found that my debtor
had become insolvent, and fled ; and I thus lost, in an
instant, the advances I had made, and the fruit of my
long labour.

Alas! Sir ; what brought on the disaster of this sense-
less man, was precisely that which deceived me as to his
opulence. He had a hotel in town, a house in the coun-
try, fine clothes, footmen and lackeys ; — I was dazzled at
this, and my confidence was without bounds. A numer-
ous and elegant family seemed to answer for the prudence
of its chief; but I knew not that the children and valets
were the masters. After the reverse, nothing was talked
of but robbery, dissipation, imprudence, debts contracted
by the children, and paid off several times to usurers who
made a noise ; — whilst poor locksmiths, and joiners, and
tailors, did not presume to go and claim the fruit of their
labour. It is a very lamentable thing for a creditor,
Monsieur le Comte, to want bread, because his debtor
has squandered millions ; but there is something ^till
more disgusting to an honest man — it is to see impudence
the companion of knavery, and to encounter the disdain
of despicable persons.

One of the sons of this gentleman who dragged me with


him into ruin, i'S returned to Paris. He is married and
cuts a figure ; the means by which he does so, may easily
be guessed. On being told of this, I experienced greater
indignation than hope ; and I was right. I gained admit-
tance to his anti-chamber ; but his people knew not what
I meant ; my claims seemed to be upon their master's
father and not upon him. As for the gentleman himself,
he did not choose to see or hear me, nor would he hon-
our his name by the least attention to a domestic debt.
After this, his door was shut against me. I presented
myself at it one (jay just as he was going out, and encoun-
tered the most dastardly glance that ever audacious scoun-
drel repulsed an honest man with.

Your pardon, Monsieur le Comte, for giving you all
these particulars ; you see my drift ; but I must repeat
it again, for it relieves me. Ah ! what an excellent de-
cree, what a consolatorj^ law does the nation owe you !
Thus is my gentleman, in spite of his noble birth, fallen
below his locksmith, because the latter pays his debts,
and the gentleman does not. And here is his worthy
son reduced, in spite of his ostentation and insolence, to
the same level with his unhappy father, whose ruin he
hastened. Both are less than citizens, because they have
forfeited the privileges of citizens ; consequently they
are less than I whom they have despoiled. I hope to as-
sist at the primari/ assemblies ; my children will perhaps
become electors, and whilst we are performing such pa-
triotic duties, it will be the turn of these magnificent
debtors to respect us.


The law, it is true, gives me no action against the son
of my debtor ; but the tribunal of public opinion brings
the action for me. This is a new security for debts,
which are thus placed under the safe-guard of public

You cannot, Monsieur le Comte, fully appreciate the
good you have done. Have you been ruined like me, by
a haughty and pitiless debtor ? Do you enjoy the plea-
sure of revenge by means so unforeseen, so sure, and so
terrible ? Are you aware of the proud slateliness of cer-
tain lords when they condescend to get into a poor devil's
debt ? Have you an idea of the disgust and rebufifs they
make him suffer before he can obtain the charity of a
little justice ?

Well, sir, your law will remedy all this. The fright-
ful disgrace attached to insolvency, by giving a greater
importance to order and economy, will bring the debtor
and creditor closer together, make each sensible of his
engagements, prevent any difficulties in their fulfilment,
and, by placing the honour of the insolvent debtor in the
hands of his creditors, miake him behave to them before-
hand with rectitude and honesty..

Is not that too common habit of not paying one's
debts, a species of voluntary bankruptcy ; — that constant
putting off', to a future day, of shopkeepers, workmen,
and bearers of bills — or having them thrust out of doors
by porters, or valets ; and placing them in the cruel al-
ternative either of losing their customer if they press
for payment, or of being never paid if they do not press.


I think, sir, that as the loss of certain political rights
will cast a stigma upon an insolvent debtor, even in the
person of his children, it will no longer be an honour not
to pay one's debts. All that petty inattention to prom-
ises which happens every day, will soon be included in
the moral effect of the new law against bankrupts.

And besides, Monsieur le Comte, (pardon me, if 1
go out of my depth in penetrating the consequences of
your decree ; but since the national assembly exists, we
have acquired a new sense — the moral and political taste),
and besides, it will be a powerful corrector of popular
opinion. The functions of citizens will be confided,
not to birth, title, intrigue and ambition ; but to faithful
industry, honest foresight and propriety of conduct.
The obscure honest man will enjoy the privileges which
the titled man will have lost, if he breaks his faith.

And public offices, Monsieur le Comte ; and the ap-
pointments in the municipality and magistracy ; and
the different gradations by which an individual raises him-
self from a simple citizen to be a representative of the
nation ! what a noble and true lustre will not each of
these gradations of rank acquire in addition ? when inte-
grity and good faith stand sentinel at the entrance of the
political temple, to repulse all who violate their precepts,
to be an honest man will become a primary object of
ambition ; and the first pride of the greater and lesser
magistracy will be to have no members but honest men.

Your ideas, on this subject, have doubtless anticipated
mine. We can appreciate the judgment, by the judge —


the law, by the legislator. The best way to be well gov-
erned is to make virtue a title of eligibility for yo\ir
governors; for by perfecting the instrument, you render
the work more perfect ; — and a public man is the more
attached to his functions, and studies the more to make
them useful and respectable, when they are conferred
upon him as the reward of good morals and propriety of

Perhaps, Monsieur le Comte, you may think me an
enthusiast. Pray excuse this soft delirium of ^a patriotic
citizen. I think that every thing is connected in moral-
ity and legislation, as in nature. Evil produces evil, and
good is the source of good ; therefore the latter must be
done for the sake not only of itself, but of all the advanta-
ges to which it leads. I can fancy, in this decree, by
which I am so much delighted, a regenerating principle
of the national morals. When a law takes into consider-
ation the honesty of a citizen — obliges him to make his
first progress in his political career, by a profession of
purity, and sows early in his heart the goodly seeds of
virtue, and the noble ambition of public esteem — there
are no good effects to which it may not lead. You were
right, sir, in asserting that it is a law which does honour
to the nation ; but the nation also renders the honour
due to the founders of such a law.

Let us now hope, sir, that every citizen will be pene-
trated with that public spirit which animates our legisla-
tors, and has produced so celebrated a statute. In our
immense cities, every thing is fugitive, and without cha-


racter ; there is no lasting impression, and the strongest
laws leave no mark ; — but in our provinces, in our small
municipalities — where each individual is under the eye
of the whole community, and where the moral feeling is
extremely excitable, and that of honour very irritable —
your law will do wonders. There it is that its good ef-
fects will serve as edifying examples to our cities. Fewer
ruined nobles will be there seen, in future, insulting the
misery they have caused ; poor artisans will be able to
pay for their little stock in trade, to set up their sons,
and to portion off their daughters. They will be more
fortunate than I ; but they will not feel greater admira-
tion for their illustrious fellow-citizen, whose exertions
for our happiness and prosperity are unbounded.

I am, with respect.

Monsieur le Comte,

Your very humble servant,




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Online LibraryEtienne DumontRecollections of Mirabeau → online text (page 22 of 22)